Updated: May 19, 2020
Appropriate Assertiveness is being able to state your case without sparking the defenses of the other person. It works when you say how it is for you rather, than what they should or shouldn’t do. “The way I see it…”, attached to your assertive statement, helps. A skilled “I” statement goes even further.
When to Use “I” Statements
The “I” statement formula can be useful because it says how it is for you, how you see it from your point of view. It stays out of their space. You can waste valuable brain power predicting the other person’s response. Don’t! Just be sure that you haven’t used inflammatory language. It should be “CLEAN”. Because you don’t know how the other person will respond, the cleanest “I” statements are delivered to state what you need, not to force them to fix things. Use an “I” statement when you need to let the other person know that you feel strongly about the issue. Others can underestimate how hurt, angry, or put-off you are, so it’s useful to say exactly what’s going on for you, describing not blaming. Your “I” statement should be simple and “CLEAR”.
What your “I” Statement Isn’t
Your “I” statement is not about being polite. It’s not diluted, soft, or nice, but it also shouldn't be rude. It’s just clear. It’s not the resolution; it’s the opener to a conversation. Don’t expect it to fix things straight away. Don’t think the other person is going to respond as you want them to immediately. A Well-Intentioned “I” statement is:
unlikely to do any harm
a step in the right direction
sure to shift the current situation in some way
open to possibilities that you may not yet see.
Sometimes the situation may not look any different, but after a clean, clear “I” statement it may feel different. This alone changes things. Here’s an example: Nan was upset when she heard her adult son, Tommy, had visited town and not bothered to call or see her. They seemed to be growing further apart, and she had been brooding over this. She did not want to appear to nag him, or say anything to make things worse. She did want to see him when he came to town. When next they spoke, she prepared herself for the conversation with a well-rehearsed “I” statement. She got it “clear” and “clean”. She was very sure she wanted a conversation that would be different from all those times she hinted at the problem without really saying it. “When I miss out on seeing you I feel hurt and what I’d like is to have contact with you when you are in town.” She said it. Tommy immediately reacted with “You’re always going at me with the same old thing.” But Nan had a clear intention. “No”, she said. “This time I said something different. I was simply telling you how I feel.” For the first time on this issue, he really heard her. There was a moment’s silence. Then instead of getting defensive (his usual pattern) he said “Well, actually I’ve tried to phone a few times. You weren’t home.” She acknowledged that was so. She felt much better and they then went on to have the best conversation in ages.
The next time someone shouts at you and you don’t like it, resist the temptation to withdraw rapidly (maybe slamming the door on the way out). Resist the temptation to shout back to stop the onslaught, and deal with your own rising anger. This is the time for appropriate assertiveness. Stop for a moment, take a deep breath, get centered, plant your feet firmly on the ground, and slip your mind into “I” statement gear.
The "I" Recipe: Easy As 1-2-3
Start mixing a three ingredient recipe:
When...(this happens) When… I hear a voice raised at me
I feel... (emotion) I feel... humiliated
And what I'd like is that I ... (future action you'd like to be able to do). And what I’d like is that I… can discuss an issue with you without ending up feeling hurt.
The best “I” statement is free of expectations. It is delivering a clean, clear statement of how it is from your side and how you would like it to be.
We didn’t make this stuff up. The skills in this article are based on over 30 years of experience in conflict resolution and psychology. The Conflict Resolution Network (CRN) is a resource center that offers high-quality free and low-cost training materials for educational programs that move people and systems away from adversarial approaches towards cooperation and sustainable solutions. For more information and access to their absolutely incredible (and extraordinarily accessible) resources, we recommend you visit www.crnhq.org.